The San Blas archipelago, some 400 tiny islands scattered along the Caribbean coast of eastern Panama, is ruled by the fiercely independent Kuna who won semi-autonomy following an uprising against the Panamanian government in 1925. The colourfully attired tribe, who fled Colombia and were never conquered by the Spanish, inhabits only 40 of the islands, maintaining their old traditions within bustling small communities. The pristine uninhabited islands consist of white sand beaches and swaying palms – classic Caribbean coral cays – surrounded by turquoise waters and coral reefs providing good snorkelling. Although diving in San Blas itself is prohibited, it is possible to dive the outer reefs on the western border of Kuna territory. The San Blas reef system has been identified as one of the 10 best preserved in the world, with an abundance of marine life including manta rays, moray eels, porpoises and a bewildering assortment of polychromatic reef fish and hard and soft corals.
Guna Yala also refers to land to the south of San Blas, on the Panamanian mainland, which is also inhabited by members of the tribe. The Kuna as a whole form a powerful voting block and wield a large amount of power in Panama’s general elections, ensuring the preservation of their rights and independence.